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William Alexander Hammond 

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State Library of North Carolina 














"Homines qui gestant, quique auscultant crimina 
Si meo arbitratu liceat, omnes pendeant 
Gestores Unguis, auditores auribus." 



205-213 East 12th Street. 


North Carolina Stat© Library 








; Homines qui gestant, quique auscultant crimina 
Si meo arbitratu liceat, omnes pendeant 
Gestores linguis, auditores auribus." 


205-213 East 12th Street. 





43 West Fifty-fourth Street, 

New York, June 1, 1878. 
My Dear Grissom : 

Terrence, with whose writings so profound a scholar as you 
must necessarily be familiar, says : Homo sum ; humani nihil a m& 
alienum puto. In that grand expression I find my excuse, not only 
for addressing you in terms of endearment, but for addressing you at 
all. There is doubtless something of humanity about you, and to the 
extent that you partake of the nature of man is my interest in you. 
How much of your humanity is inherent, and how much has been ac- 
quired by association with wiser and better men than yourself, I do 
not know ; neither is it a matter of any consequence, so far as the 
purpose of this communication is concerned. 

Hearing of you for the first time, a few days ago, I naturally turned 
to that repertory of the lives of great men, " The Physicians and 
Surgeons of the United States ;" and I there found that you were 
born on the 8th of May, 1831. Consequently, when you exhibited 
your eloquence, your learning, your refinement, your truth, your 
courtesy, and your Christian charity to the assembled wisdom of in- 
sane asylum superintendents at Washington, you were almost exactly 
forty-seven years of age. 

I found also that, in the short space of twenty-six years, beginning 
with your reaching the age of manhood, you have been a lawyer, a 
teacher, a " Superior Court clerk," a physician of rank, with an ardu- 
ous practice, lasting three years, a captain in the Confederate Army, a 
member of the Legislature, again a member of the Legislature, a mem- 
ber of the Constitutional State Convention, an aide-de-camp to the 
Governor, with the rank of colonel ; and that then, surfeited with 
honors, you declined " many proffers of distinguished political posi- 
tions, including that of Lieutenant-Governor, and accepted the office 
of Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane, at Ealeigh, in 
1868," which, as I am sorry to learn, you still retain, performing the 
duties in a manner satisfactory to " both political parties." 


This sketch, which is enlivened by many other interesting particu- 
lars, is also illustrated with a beaiitifully engraved portrait, at which 
I have looked for hours at a time, vainly endeavoring to catch some 
expression indicative of the characteristics so great a man should 
possess. But, alas ! all I can see is a varying gleam of something (I 
cannot call it intelligence), which at one time looks like stolid wick- 
edness, and at another latent insanity. I am, therefore, forced to the 
conclusion that that happy blending of "depravity and mental aberra- 
tion which, as some alienists contend, many of the criminal class ex- 
hibit, has a beautiful example in you. 

•But a great deal of reflection on this momentous psychological 
problem convinces me that you have more to fear from the tendency 
to insanity than all the rest of the world has from your wickedness. 
Now, as it is your welfare, my dear Grissom, that prompts me to 
write this letter, I am naturally anxious to word it in a way most 
likely to conduce to your advantage ; and hence it becomes necessary 
to avail myself of every scrap of information in regard to you on 
which I can lay my hands. As one of the aids to my study of your 
character, I have carefully perused the report of your remarks, before 
alluded to, published in the National Standard, of Washington City, 
which you were kind enough to send me, and which act of gener- 
osity I fully appreciate. I especially thank you, my dear Grissom, 
for indicating with a blue pencil line the part in which } r ou so elo- 
quently speak of me ; for, otherwise, simply seeing that you had 
spoken, and never, strange to say, having heard of you before, despite 
your crushing honors, I should not have thought of reading the text 
of your speech, and therefore you would have lost the chance of 
reformation or cure which this letter will give you, and the youth 
of our country the warning which I hope to inculcate through your 

In this very interesting and instructive address you have, as I 
have intimated, done me the honor of calling attention to what you 
are pleased to regard as some of my mental and moral characteris- 
tics. Not being an insane asylum superintendent, I was, of course, 
not present; but the report in the daily newspaper is very graphic, 
and, as it is endorsed by you, is doubtless correct. Had I been 
there, you would probably have hesitated before delivering your 
speech, and thus again you would have lost the opportunity of being 
benefited by what I am about to say to you. But in that event, 
although you would have been deprived of this letter, you would 
probably have received some compensation, for I very much fear, 



my dear Grissom, that I should have yielded to the evil spirit which, 
as you say, has taken me captive, have lost the philosophical calm- 
ness which I try to maintain when thrown into contact with persons 
like you, and have laid a not very gentle horsewhip over your ample 
shoulders. Who knows, however, but that you would have selected 
this, had the choice been offered you ? I have known unruly children 
to place the rod in the paternal hands, and, preferring physical suffer- 
ing to mental anguish, beg that a bodily castigation might take the 
place of the anticipated lecture. 

But this is digressing. Let us return to some of your antecedents, 
reserving for another part of this letter the fuller consideration of 
your eloquent remarks — remarks so eloquent and at the same time 
sq suitable, that, as the reporter states, they were received by the 
noble body to which they were addressed with the most vociferous 

What your peculiar qualifications were for the position of super- 
intendent of an insane asylum, after having filled the various positions 
in the legal, pedagogic, and military professions you are shown to have 
occupied, must, I am afraid, forever remain a mystery. By whom 
you were appointed your biographer does not tell us. Probably by 
the Legislature of which you were a member. Such bodies, as we all 
know, often do very remarkable things in the way of appointments. 
But if any Legislature has ever done quite so remarkable a thing as 
making one of its own members the superintendent of a lunatic asy- 
lum, the instance has escaped my observation. It may, however, 
have regarded you — and your previous career would almost have 
warranted the supposition— as one of those exceptional individuals 
of whom an English statesman spoke as ready to " play whipper- 
in to the House of Commons, sail the Channel fleet, or cut for stone 
on five minutes' notice." 

Nevertheless, you certainly never distinguished yourself as a lawyer ; 
the youth whom you have educated are yet unknown to fame ; your 
prowess on the field of battle has never been blazoned to the world, 
although your biographer states that you were wounded, but in what 
part of your anatomy we are not informed. It is as an asylum su- 
perintendent that you have at last achieved notoriety, and it is as 
such that I shall mainly have to consider you in this communication. 
And I shall have to determine, so far as my humble power will permit, 
what had better be done for the alleviation of the misfortunes under 
which you suffer. 

A wise man has said that there is more hope for a knave than a 


fool. The one may possibly be brought to realize his wickedness, 
the other can never be taught to know how worthless he is. But in 
this view, so far as it relates to the inaptitude of fools, I cannot co- 
incide. I have known people as devoid of reason, as you have shown 
yourself to be, made by kindness and consideration useful, though, 
perhaps, not very exalted members of society — and this without the 
\ise of mechanical restraint : a therapeutical power which you. evi- 
dently regard as a sovereign remedy for all mental affections. 

It is quite evident that you ought to be not only cured, but also 
reformed. I am afraid I cannot undertake *iis latter task : as the 
barber said when he shaved a blacksmith, but refused the like office 
to a coal-heaver, " The line must be drawn somewhere." Were 

1 to engage to do for you everything that your case requires, I should 
be busy with you, my dear Grissom, all the rest of my life ; and how- 
ever pleasant to me and useful to you such aD association might be, 
there are limits beyond which a regard for my other occupations will 
not allow me to go. I am therefore forced to leave the duty of your 
reformation to some other person. Perhaps some society would 
undertake the charitable work. There is an association for the 
reformation of juvenile delinquents which has done a good deal of 
telling labor in this direction ; but I am not sure that your age (forty- 
seven, I believe) would not prove a bar to its assumption of the 
charge. There certainly, however, must be some way by which that 
part of your case can be attended to, and I commend the matter to 
the serious consideration of yourself and friends. Should you not 
take this advice to heart, I am afraid, my dear Grissom, that the 
strong arm of the law may some day be laid upon you, and that the 
reformation you would not voluntarily seek may be forced upon you 
through the medium of mechanical restraint not less galling than that 
which you are in the habit of inflicting on the poor wretches under 
your supervision in the Insane Asylum at Raleigh. 

It is to your care, therefore, that I must confine myself; and in 
what I shall have to say to you under this head I beg that jou will 
regard me as being actuated by a sincere desire to save you from im- 
pending disaster. To be sure, your case is interesting, in a scientific 
point of view ; but, if I know myself, my dear Grissom, my love for 
you predominates over any mere psychological interest which so 
morbid a specimen as you can excite. 

Before proceeding to discuss the subject of your treatment, I must 
endeavor to convince you that you really are of the insane tempera- 
ment, if not now on the very borderland of insanity. 


1. In the first place, I find that you are a sixteenth child. Now, as 
everybody knows, sixteenth children are very rare, and are, in their 
way, even more remarkable than seventh sons. In all the instances 
of sixteenth children that have come under my observation, there was 
mental obliquity of some kind or other. 

2. Precocity of intellect. I find, on consulting your biography, 
that yon passed yo\ir early days on your father's farm, and that then, 
after a " course " (whatever that may be) at Graham High School, 
your entered upon the study of law, and devoted some time to teach- 
ing ; that, despite the flattering prospects of success before you and 
your great popularity, resulting in your election as Superior Court 
clerk at the early age of twenty-two, you turned to the more con- 
genial study of medicine, and that on graduating you at once became 
a leading physician in the county of your birth. If this biography 
were not written by yourself, I would be disposed to doubt the fact 
of your having been a leading physician in Granville County, which, 
as I know, at that time possessed several skillful and experienced 
practitioners. However, it must be so, since you say it ; and hence 
the fact of your precocity may be considered as established. Now, 
all alienists declare precocity to be a very dangerous condition. The 
number of precocious boys who have become insane men is enormous • 
and even when positive mental aberration is not produced, the mind 
in after-life is unable to direct the individual in a sure, strong, and 
successful career. Thus Brigham, 1 in speaking of such cases as yours, 

" Others of the class of early prodigies, and I believe the most 
numerous portion, exhibit in manhood but small mental powers, and 
are the mere passive instruments of those who in early life were ac- 
counted their inferiors." 

How pregnant with truth is each word of this extract from the 
writings of one of our greatest alienists, and how strikingly the lan- 
guage is applicable to you ! No one can read your recent speech 
without perceiving that your mental powers are almost infinitesimal 
and that you are only " the passive instrument " of one with a longer 
head than yours, my dear Grissom. 

Broussais 2 declares that prodigies of premature intellectual devel- 
opment and education rarely prosper. If encephalitis does not carry 

1 Mental Exertion in Relation to Health. English edition. 1864. p. 56. 

2 A Treatise on Physiology applied to Pathology. American Edition. Phil- 
adelphia, 1826. p. 178. 


them off, they infallibly perish with gastritis or scrofula. Most gen- 
erally all these evils oppress them at once, and, if they do not sink 
under them in early life, they carry with them to mature age an irri- 
tability which does not allow of their resisting the morbific influences 
in the midst of which man is forced to live. And he adds, " If the 
simple exercise of thought can occasion so many evils, what will it not 
be when the passions are associated with it ! " 

3. Closely allied to precocity, is the fact that children of whom 
much is hoped are exceedingly apt to disappoint the expectations 
that have been formed of them, and often, from the supervention of 
insanity or imbecility . As Wanley ' says : 

" As many a bright and fair morning has been followed by dark 
and black clouds before sunset, so not a few have outlived their own 
virtues and utterly frustrated the good hopes that were conceived of 

Thus Bassianus Caracalla was so courteous, and pleasant, and obse- 
quious in his childhood to his parents, his friends, and indeed to all 
the people, that every man was the admirer of his piety, meekness, 
and good nature. But advancing further into years, he was so 
changed in his manners and behavior, and was of so cruel and bloody 
a disposition, that many could scarcely believe it was the same per- 
son whom they had known in his childhood. 2 

So it has been with you, my dear Grissom. The " popularity " of 
your early youth, which doubtless you only obtained by the display 
of many god-like virtues, is now, since you selected the superintend- 
ency of the State Insane Asylum, at Raleigh, changed to hatred and 
contempt in the hearts of all who are aware of the barbarities and 
outrages you inflict on the helpless creatures so unfortunate as to be 
under your control, but yet who are ignorant of the mitigating cir- 
cumstances I am alleging in your case. But even Caracalla had the 
excuse of insanity. 

4. Vain-glorious boasting is, as perhaps even you know, a most im- 
portant symptom of a form of insanity. It is also a sign which, when 
encountered in persons of the insane temperament, is fraught with 
danger. That you are a vain-glorious boaster no one reading your 
autobiography can fail to perceive. Relative to such persons as you, 
an old writer, 3 from whom I have already quoted, remarks: 

1 Wonders of the Little World. Loudon, 1806. Vol II., p. 5. 

2 Wanley, op. cit. , p. 6. 

a Wanley, Vol. II., p. 132. 


" Empty vessels make the greatest sound in a vault ; shallow brains 
the greatest noise in company : and both are equally disesteemed. 
Those that think to establish a reputation in arts or arms by vain- 
glorious boastings, do not only build upon sand, but involuntarily 
encase both truth and time to demolish it. Men and things may 
have a commendable esteem in a mediocrity, but straining the point 
by proud boasts discovers a sordid disingenuity, and commonly ends 
in contempt and derision." 

Really your biography reminds me greatly of the speech of a Cas- 
tilian captain : 

" When I descend into myself, and contemplate my most terrible, 
horrible terribility, I can hardly contain myself within myself; for 
I believe that all the public notaries in Biscay are not able, in three 
years, to sum up the account of those miraculous achievements 
which this Toledo blade, this scourge of Lutherans, this converter of 
Pagans, this peopler of churchyards, has performed. I am that in- 
vincible slaughterer of mankind, that transcendent great captain, 
Basilisco Espheramonte, generalissimo of all the militia of Europe. 
I am he who swallows mountains, breathes out whirlwinds, spits tar- 
gets, and sweats quicksilver." 

Read your biography (written by yourself) again, my dear Gris- 
som, and see how nearly you are in accord with the great Basilisco 
Espheramonte. You also remind me of Oromages, who boasted that 
he had an enchanted egg in which he had inclosed all the happiness 
of the world, but when it was broken there was nothing found in it 
but wind. 1 That Espheramonte and Oromages were lunatics can 
scarcely be doubted. 

5. A cai-eful perusal of your eloquent address convinces me that 
you are subject to exacerbations which strongly resemble attacks of re- 
current or of epileptic maria. Never having examined you personally, 
I hesitate to express a decided professional opinion on this point ; but I 
adduce the following facts for the consideration of yourself and friends : 

I find that you kindly refer to me as (1) "a Bombastes Furioso," 
(2) "a modern Spartan," (3) ''a Titus Oates," (4) "a great moral 
reformer without a belief in a Divine Master," (5) " a Cardiff giant " 
(6), " a Cagliostro," (7) " a moral monster whose baleful eyes gleam 
with delusive light." 

Now, my dear Grissom, let me ask you, in all seriousness, that you 
will in some calm moment, if any such occurs to you, read over the 

1 Howel's Germanic Dictionary. 


above list of cognomens yon have applied to me ; and, bringing to 
bear upon the subject as much of your reasoning power as you can 
concentrate upon any one matter, tell me if any one of the lunatics 
under your charge was to disport himself with such vituperative an- 
tics, you would not subject him instantly to the operation of the 
whole paraphernalia of mechanical restraint — muffles, camisoles, gags, 
Utica cribs, and all- — till you had reduced him to a condition approach- 
ing repose ? 

Or if any person, with or without your antecedents, should, with- 
out personal provocation, and against an individual whom he had 
never seen, use such a senseless, maniacal, and incoherent tissue of 
abuse as that I have quoted from your speech, he would not be re- 
garded by every competent alienist as exhibiting very strong evidence 
of being insane ? 

How contradictory are the epithets ! Your mind (what there was) 
wandered ; your delusions followed each other in most rapid succes- 
sion. How, I ask you, my dear Grissom, can a man be at the same 
time " a great moral reformer" and " a moral monster " ? How can 
he be a modern Spartan and a Cardiff giant ? How can he be a Cagli- 
ostro and a Titus Oates ? How can he be all of these things at the 
same time ? My dear friend, if you were to die, there is not a jury 
in the civilized world which would not, on the ground of insanity, 
from a consideration of that list and the attendant circumstances, set 
aside any will you might have made, or absolve you from responsibility 
for any crime you might have committed. And the very illustrious 
insane asylum superintendents, who so enthusiastically greeted you 
" with loud and prolonged applause," and gave " you a perfect ova- 
tion of handshaking and congratulations," would, many of them, on 
the same evidence, be among the first to swear away your testamen- 
tary capacity or your legal responsibility, as the case might be. 

The form of insanity to which you tend, or which already afflicts you, 
is, as I have said, a matter of some little doubt. My own opinion is, 
that it is either recurrent or epileptic mania ; and I incline, after very 
full consideration, to the latter view. If I only had the opportunity 
of asking you a few questions, or inquiring of some of your friends, I 
should be better enabled to give a positive opinion. I should like to 
know whether you have ever waked in the morning and found your 
tongue sore ? whether there is ever blood on the pillow which receives 
your head ? whether you are subject to attacks of vertigo ? etc., etc. 
1 am quite sure — as sui'e as though I had seen you — that you frothed 
at the mouth while delivering your speech. Were you unconscious 


at that time ? These, my dear Grissom, are questions which, ought 
to be answered, and yet some of them are of such a character as to 
be outside the range of your personal knowledge. Will you not as- 
certain, from some of your auditors, the principal phenomena, mental 
and physical, and inform me at your earliest convenience ? 

I think I have demonstrated to your satisfaction that your case is 
one requiring immediate treatment. Now, what is to be done V A 
friend, looking over my shoulder, says: " Gag him." Another, of 
whom I asked the question, replied: " Put him in a Utica crib." A 
third — one who, I am free to confess, has but few bowels of compas- 
sion — answered : " Confine him in his own lunatic asylum." But none 
of these means will do. As you are aware, my principles being 
against the use of mechanical restraint, I cannot conscientiously ad-_ 
vise the use either of the gag or the Utica crib and confinement in 
an asylum, which has been directed by you, and in which, there- 
fore, all the procedures run in ruts of your making, would be a thera- 
peutical measure of so severe a character that I could not recommend 
it in the case of a criminal lunatic of characteristics worse even than 
those you have exhibited. 

But I would have you, my dear Grissom, take the matter into 
serious consideration, and by the exercise of your own volitional 
powers endeavor to control the manifestation of such emotional dis- 
turbances as you exhibited a few days ago in Washington. I do not 
know that you ever saw a little book, written several years since by 
the Rev. Mr. Barlow, and entitled " Man's Power over Himself to 
Prevent or Control Insanity." In that monograph you will find 
many valuable counsels. 

Dr. Tuke 1 has quite recently written a book which may be within 
your reach, and which, if it is not, it will give me great pleasure to 
send you. In the meantime I cannot do you a greater service than 
by quoting a few passages, which strike me as being especially ap- 
plicable to your case : 

" It may safely be asserted, however, that there is no fact better 
established than that we can exert our will over our mental processes 
to a very large extent. I would insist, in the strongest possible man- 
ner, upon the necessity of self-rule or control. If I believe that we 
are conscious automata, I should have no heart to ask a man to do 
this. But I believe in no instance is it more important that men 
should recognize their own will and the obligation of employing it 

1 Insanity in Ancient and Modern Life, with Chapters on Prevention. Lon- 
don, 1878. 


to control those really automatic tendencies of the mind which often 
are characteristic of insanity" (p. 153). 

"It must never be forgotten that in a large number of instances in- 
sanity comes on insidiously, and that, therefore, it may be pursuing 
its silent course long before maniacal excitement, an attempt to 
commit suicide or a violent assault are witnessed. Hence the slightest 
suspicions of mental derangement ought to induce careful attention 
and early care" (p. 215). 

After inculcating a strict attention to the laws of health, Dr. Tuke 
says : 

" The path, then, towards the preservation of a healthy mind- — in 
other words, escaping an attack of insanity — is sufficiently plain, 
-though I cannot speak so sententiously as in the words of advice of 
an old Irish physician, which I once heard in Dublin : ' Keep,' he 
said, ' your skin clean, your stomach clean, and your conscience 
clean / ' excellent advice, which would, no doubt, go a long way in 
preventing mental as well as bodily disease " (p. 188). 

" On the first threatenings of insanity, let the person so threat- 
ened be removed from associations or surroundings which may foster 
morbid feelings; complete change of scene is desirable" (p. 214). 

This is a most important piece of advice. Situated as you are, 
your associations are of the very worst possible character, and cannot 
but militate strongly against your mental health. Day by day you 
are brought into contact with the very disease it is so desirable you 
should escape, or be cured of. The force of exainple is constantly 
exerted upon you ; your thoughts are eternally directed in the same 
channel ; your forebodings are always of the most gloomy form. 
Even your sleep must be haunted by the frightful pictures which are 
presented to you in your dreams. Leave the asylum ! Give up the 
superintending of an institution, the duties of which you only dis- 
charge to the satisfaction of " both political parties," and seek, amid 
other scenes, perhaps in another clime, the change which you can 
never get with your present surroundings. You say, in your speech, 
that I have seduced the Congress of the nation into doing what I 
wanted. Would to God I could exert a like influence over the Legis- 
lature of North Carolina ! Then, my dear Grissom, you would be free. 

As to the best occupation for you, Tuke, in like cases, recommends 
the sea : 

lt A sailor's life, for" instance, exposes him to many dangers, but 
not to that of insanity, so long at least as he is at sea. As Ruskin 
puts it, 'the ocean- work is wholly adverse to any morbid conditions 


of sentiment ' " (p. 189). Go then to sea ; enlist in the navy, and stay 
there, but do anything rather than keep a lunatic asylum, and you may 
escape the dangers to which you are so strongly liable, and perhaps 
even be cured of the ills from which you already suffer. 

And now, my dear Grissom, I have done my duty, and must bring 
this long epistle to a close. Had I written it upon any other basis than 
the theory of your irresponsibility, I should have called attention to 
the fact that abuse is not argument, and that your language to the As- 
sociation of Superintendents of Insane Asylums was more an insult to 
them than to me. They do not, however, seem to have so regarded 
it, and therefore their conduct is calculated to call up a blush to the 
face of every honorable physician when he reflects that these men call 
themselves Ms peers. I should have reminded you that I had never, 
in my whole life, mentioned your name, and that therefore you could 
have had no reasonable ground for personal hostility. I should have 
stated that my sole cause of offence was the fact that I had ventured 
to express my views — without the slightest personality — on the sub- 
ject of mechanical restraint in insane asylums. I should have asked 
you what you and those you represented could possibly hope to gain 
by treating a most important subject, not with reasoning, but with 
vituperation so foul as would disgrace the inmates of a brothel ; I 
should have inquired what my real or supposed theological views 
have to do with any statements I may have made relative to the 
management of insane asylums. I should have dwelt upon the fact 
that if this is to be your line of defence, you grossly mistake the 
temper and the understanding of the Ameiican people ; for, though 
no prophet, I perceive very clearly that what Pinel and Conolly 
did for France and England, some one will do for this country, and 
that ere long, camisoles and Utica cribs will go the way of chains and 
dungeons. I might have alluded to the fact that, like many others 
who flaunt their Christianity into the faces of those who presume to 
think for themselves, you disregard the most noble and God-like 
teachings of Him whom you profess to serve. I might have men- 
tioned the wretched taste, the low professional morality, the trans- 
parent falsehoods which characterize your speech and the utter dis- 
regard of the ethics of your profession which prompted you to pub- 
lish it in a common newspaper. If I had written your speech myself, 
I could not have done a better service to the cause I have at heart, 
and I can only see in your conduct, and in that of the body to which 
you addressed your ravings, another exemplification of the fact that 
" Quern Deus vult perdere prius dementat." 


North Carolina State Library 


GC 362.2 H227o 

Hammond, William Alexander, 1828-1900. 
An open letter to Eugene Grissom, superi 

3 3091 00256 6305 

[_ ■ Stockton, Calif 











362.2 i 

An open letter to Eugene Grissom 




— ■ .S.A. 







An open letter to Eugene Grissom